How to write an apology letter

Everybody makes mistakes. The business sphere sees many of them. Some are insignificant, while some are grave and can lead to disastrous consequences. Knowing how to react to your mistakes, learn from them, and apologize for causing them are crucial skills for any business team member. Today we’ll focus on apology letters, what they are, how to write them effectively, and which elements to include to preserve your reputation and convince other people to forgive you.

How to write an apology letter

An apology letter: what is it and why is it so hard to write?

As the name states, we use an apology letter to apologize to someone - a partner, client, or coworker. It's used as a written method for admitting a mistake, expressing regret, and seeking forgiveness. Furthermore, it can be helpful for mending poor or troubled relationships. Such letters play a significant role in the corporate world because they create a written or electronic record of your admitting being wrong and the attempt to fix the situation. A worker who can behave that way is highly valuable for any business team. 

To cause the desired effect, an apology letter should fulfill the following tasks:

1. Let the receiver understand you admit your mistakes.

2. Contain a sincere apology, showing you regret what happened.

3. Offer ways to overcome this challenging situation or describe which steps you’re going to undertake to prevent it from happening once again.

Apologizing represents a true form of art, not every person can master. Admitting mistakes is difficult because we believe they represent us in a negative light and reflect badly on our character. But leaving without an apology or making it feeble is way worse. 

There are several reasons why making apologies may be challenging:

  • The defense mode is on. You don’t want to feel ashamed and guilty. But the truth is the defense is different from an apology. It often leads to making excuses and blaming others, not looking for an elegant way out of the conflict.
  • You think this will make you own the responsibility, or others will accuse you of all the mistakes, happened earlier. But you should apologize as soon as possible because living in a conflict causes stress, anxiety, and is toxic to your relationships with other people.
  • You believe that making mistakes means you’re not good enough. Feeling stressed and ashamed causes a bad mood and sad thoughts, making it difficult to believe one mistake won’t reflect on your character and prove you’re not reliable. 

But don’t panic! Putting your apology in a writing form offers the possibility to concentrate better, gather all your thoughts, and express them in a letter, carefully thinking over each word and meaning you want to convey.

Which elements should an apology letter include?

Saying “sorry” may be tough but this can bring many positive moments into a conversation and help to make a pleasant impression. Unfortunately, the way of mastering this skill is challenging. It requires following certain guidelines.

A professional and persuasive apology letter should include the following elements:

1. A “Sorry” part. An apology must contain it. You should place it at the beginning of the letter so that it will be the first thing a person reads. Your message should look straightforward to let the other side understand you feel terrible about what happened. 

2. Proper explanation of the situation and your actions. Describe the situation, its reasons, and outcomes, and this will make an offended person understand you know what happened and why that was hurtful. Make an effort to remain focused on your role, don’t blame the circumstances or other people (if you’re the only one who’s guilty).

3. Solutions to the problem. Describe all possible variants that can help with overcoming the issue. This will show others that you’re working on fixing the situation. 

4. Admitting you’re guilty. It’s the most challenging part. Confessing you were wrong requires you to be a strong person because this contradicts our human nature. By doing so, you’ll win some points and get closer to reconciliation.              

5. The apology. Ask for forgiveness to show a little vulnerability and prove you deserve trust. This won’t make you look weak, otherwise, only strong people understand their faults and are willing to apologize for them.

These are the major elements of a proper apology. It seems simple and at the same time hard, but definitely worth it. Just remember: no defense, no blaming others, no excuses.

How to write and send a professional apology email?

It can take a long time before you write a proper apologetic letter to a coworker or a customer. And to help you make this way shorter, we’ve prepared several steps you can follow. They include additional tips on how to start a letter of apology and how to show you apologize sincerely. Let’s start!

1. Mull over the situation and gather your thoughts

When something bad happens, it’s okay to want to react as quickly as possible. You want to defend yourself and forget about the conflict, or want to apologize and continue communication as if nothing happened. But your emotional state may play a dirty trick and only worsen the situation.

The most important thing you should always bear in mind is your mood when writing a letter. Unpleasant situations always make us feel bad, confused, and upset about what happened. And writing a letter to apologize for the inconvenience you caused being overly emotional may only aggravate the conflict and draw attention to all the wrong reasons. You may sound defensive and the recipient will think you denounce other people for being upset.

So before you start, give yourself some time to calm down, collect your thoughts and take your mind off the situation. But don’t wait for too long, a couple of hours or a day will help formulate your thoughts better and more objectively.

2. Imagine yourself on the other side of the conflict

Psychologists like exercises in empathy. If you ever talked to them, you should have answered the question “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” The same applies to apologizing in a letter for mistakes that happened at work or in personal life.

You’re not the only one who feels bad. The other person is offended and may feel even more terrible. It can be hard to understand what’s on his mind and why he is upset. After all, you were the reason for the conflict and know more of the behind-the-scenes actions, causing the mistake.

When dealing with a wronged customer, imagine yourself being offended by your favorite brand, whose services and products you use for a long time. Whether you sold defective goods or the customer support ignored the client’s request for assistance, just put yourself in his shoes for a second and think of how you would want to solve the problem.

3. Explain what happened (but leave no excuses)

Being the reason for the problem you can be a little biased concerning the whole situation and the reasons why it happened. The other side wants to figure out what exactly went wrong and how to overcome the problem, but not to argue who’s guilty and why it was not your fault. What you can do:

  • Gather your thoughts
  • Try analyzing the situation objectively
  • Describe the series of events that happened
  • Keep to the point
  • Briefly recall all the circumstances

You may don’t want to tell everything, but others will appreciate you being open and honest. This will help to rebuild trust and prove you’re a reliable person.

4. Offer possible solutions

The primary goals of any apology are to let the offended side know you feel sorry, apologize for the inconvenience you caused, and show you’re working hard on fixing this issue. 

To do this effectively, your letter should include a plan with solutions to the problem. If your customers feel unsatisfied with the quality of the goods, offer a refund. In case there were some problems with the delivery, provide a discount for their next purchase. 

If a large audience was offended, along with apologizing for the inconvenience, you should do your best to make amendments and don’t ignore your clients or partners. Let them know you’re working on the problem and soon there will be some benefits or discounts for everyone who was insulted.

5. Deliver the letter

When you’re on the finishing line of composing a letter apologizing for a mistake, it’s time to send it to a recipient. Choosing the right communication channel is crucial because conflicts can be different and each requires a particular approach. 

If you deal with a customer, a traditional email is an acceptable way to send an apology letter. On the other hand, if the recipient is an important partner or your boss, it may be inappropriate. You can deliver the letter with the help of a postal carrier, who will hand it in person. 

If the conflict happens within your company and you employ services for online meetings and remote collaboration, like Whoosh, Zoom, or Skype, the format may be different. You can create a virtual room inviting everyone to share your letter or write a long message with apologies.

3 examples of apology letters

1. How to write an apology letter to a customer for poor service

When dealing with customers proper service is crucial. There are no companies where every client is completely satisfied with the quality of service or products. Clients go to customer support, but even there they can encounter unhelpful or ignorant specialists. To handle such a problem effectively, you should write a letter of apology (or just hire more experienced employees).

Dear Sir/Madam,

On behalf of [Company Name], I want to sincerely apologize for the negative experience you had with our customer support department. I understand that our specialists didn’t provide proper assistance and were not helpful enough.

Our team can boast of having only highly qualified specialists, which usually provide friendly and fast service. Unfortunately, that time they failed. And we are sorry for that.

I’m going to monitor the quality of assistance they provide and hold additional training on customer support to ensure such situations will not happen again. 

Thank you for contacting me and sharing the issue you happened to face. Please, do not hesitate to contact me again in case other problems arise. Your feedback is essential for this process.

Yours sincerely,

[Full Name]

[Company]

[Contacts]

2. How to apologize to someone you work together

When you work with other people, conflicts are inevitable. Your goal is to react correctly, without ignoring and hoping they will work themselves out. After all, maintaining friendly relationships within your team based on trust and respect is crucial for the company’s development and success. That’s why, when composing a letter to a colleague, be sincere, don’t blame others, and show you’re trying to improve.

Dear [Name],

I want to apologize for the way I behaved at yesterday's conference. I’m really sorry for the inconvenience I caused during your presentation, it was very disrespectful and I understand that you may don’t want to talk to me. Please, forgive me for being so rude.

I’m writing this letter to assure you that this won’t happen again. I appreciate the time we work together and would like to maintain our friendly relationship. I’ll be working hard on my manners and will always be respectful of your work and efforts. 

Please, contact me if you would like to discuss this situation.

Best regards,

[Name]

3. How to apologize to a large group of people

It’s horrifying even to imagine, but you may offend a large group of people. Regarding apology letters, it’s crucial to highlight the importance of each person and not write words like “I’m sorry if anyone felt offended.”

Hello Everyone,

I want to say sorry to you all. Last Saturday, we invited a singer from out of state to perform at our cafe. She said she was vaccinated and showed a negative PCR COVID-19 test. Unfortunately, afterward, we found out that this was not entirely true. 

This illness hit us and other entertaining places badly, but this doesn’t mean we should make exceptions from the restrictions the government imposes to keep our community safe. When planning the concert, we wanted to bring joy and happiness to our visitors. And we want to apologize sincerely for putting you all in such jeopardy.

From now on, we won’t open our doors until all the staff members have tested negative for COVID-19. We’ll inform you when we are ready to open again. We’ll grant each visitor a 30% discount on the menu and two free tickets to any show you choose. 

Thank you all for your continued support during the last couple of years! And in turn, we promise to keep you safe and sound while visiting our cafe.

All the best,

[Full Name]

[Company]

Final words

You won’t find a business that hasn't apologized for something at some point. Yet, many of them do this ineffectively and frequently experience negative consequences afterward.

Just remember the key factors to success when writing business apology letters:

  • Be sincere
  • Avoid using non-apologetic apologies
  • Explain the situation
  • Avoid excuses
  • Suggest a solution
  • Remember that mistakes happen, and your goal is to learn from them

Apologizing is an essential skill for all spheres of life, which requires much time to master. Fortunately, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

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